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US Steel closes Illinois furnace ‘indefinitely,’ warns 1,000 of layoffs

U.S. Steel is closing the last blast furnace in its Granite City, Illinios, plant. (John Smierciak/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

The last operating blast furnace at U.S. Steel’s plant in Granite City will remain idled indefinitely, the company said Tuesday, extending a closure first billed as temporary.

The company on Tuesday also notified 600 additional employees that they might lose their jobs.

U.S. Steel spokeswoman Amanda Malkowski, however, said the company only expected to lay off a portion of those.

And a local union official said he thought the plant would keep operating with the same number of workers, at least for now.

The fate of the Granite City plant has been in question since last summer, when U.S. Steel revealed plans to sell a portion of the facility to Chicago-based SunCoke Energy in a deal that would eliminate nearly 1,000 of 1,450 jobs at the plant.

The companies are still in discussion.

Then, lending further uncertainty, U.S. Steel said this summer that it was considering a sale of the company.

The Pittsburgh-based steel company has not made any public announcements about finalizing either potential transaction.

The Granite City facility has two blast furnaces, used to make steel. One was previous shut down.

This fall, U.S. Steel shut down the second temporarily, predicting the closure would last less than six months.

But in a layoff notice filed with area officials, dated Tuesday, the company told 1,000 employees it now expects the closure will continue longer.

Of those, 400 workers were already on temporary layoff from the site. The notification this week warned 600 more that permanent layoffs could be on the horizon.

Dan Simmons, president of United Steelworkers Local 1899, said Tuesday afternoon that he expected the plant to keep operating with the same number of workers for now.

The company estimated that, of the 1,000 total workers who received the notices, 60% might ultimately be affected, Malkowski said.

The changes will begin as early as Jan. 28, according to the notice.

When the decision to idle the blast furnace was first announced in September, the company blamed softening demand from the automotive industry, due to the sprawling United Auto Workers strike. Officials pushed back on the company’s assertion that the strike was to blame: U.S. Rep. Nikki Budzinski, D-Illinois, cast it as an attempt to “pit working people against one another.”

The UAW walkout at the Big Three automakers — Ford, General Motors and Stellantis — ended in late October.

On Tuesday, U.S. Steel said the move to idle the blast furnace indefinitely was made to balance its production with customer demand.

The company’s steel rolling and finishing operations at the site will continue, using metal slabs from other facilities.

Granite City Mayor Mike Parkinson said he is already thinking about the buildings and land that will be left vacant as parts of the plant close. He said he is concerned with how those areas will be maintained, and is raising the issue with U.S. Steel.

“I’m going to force them to start thinking about that,” Parkinson said. “My citizens deserve better.”


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